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  • Carrie Specht

A Single Man: Review


Through the use of attention-grabbing visual techniques, Tom Ford creates a masterpiece in his directing debut in cinema. In creating such a vivid interpretation of the novel Ford’s main challenge was to transform a story that depicted a man talking to himself, with all of the story coming from his thoughts, into a world where an audience can see exactly what Christopher Isherwood (author of A Single Man) intended others to see. With the novel focusing all on words to get the story across, the film had to focus on visualizing those words. With the transition from very dull and sad colors when going through his daily life to fine, vivid, warm and strong images during moments of reflection, the message that crosses through is that the main character is taking a close, careful, and youthful look at life. The angles of the camera and where it is focused during these times of vividness shows exactly how detail oriented the main character’s concentration is. The careful and rigorous final looks on life gives a feeling of absorbing observation and exactly how important each particular scene is in the mind of the main character. The addition of the music of composer Abel Korzeniowski only further insinuates the tone and mood of the main character, George.

In 1964, Christopher Isherwood, an iconic English novelist, published the book, A Single Man. It is a story about a middle-aged English professor named George who is living his last day. George spends his last mortal day paying close attention to every detail of his surroundings as he gives himself a penetrating last look on life. The novel was adapted into an award winning major motion picture in 2009 that was the directing debut of the worldwide know fashion designer, Tom Ford. With both plots having a core relation to each other, dissimilar ways in which the initial author and the new director tell us the same story directly reflects their own lives: through backgrounds, the main character and their personal love lives.

Isherwood and Ford tell two very different personal stories through A Single Man. Isherwood wrote the novel out of fear of losing his lover, Don Bachardy after Don had left him for many months to live on the other side of the country with another man. Imaging as if Don died, Isherwood wrote A Single Man as if he was a widower. The story reflects all of what was going on inside Christopher’s head, which he transferred onto paper. When transforming the novel into a film, Ford tells the story through his own perspective while using his intricate techniques as a fashion designer to give the audience a film they will never forget. His obsession for perfection allows him to adjust the plot exactly the way he wants and drives him to construct a cinematic experience extremely vivid and virtually flawless. With every detail being attended to, the film is very nearly completely his.

With both men being gay icons, neither felt the need to emphasize the main character, George as being a homosexual man. To both of them, he was just a man. As in most of his stories, Isherwood writes in a biographical manner. He expresses his life experiences, which is the reason for most of the main characters being gay. Yet, the most interesting part of his style of writing is that he does not write as if the character is straight or gay. Instead, he writes as if they are just ordinary human beings. The same view on life comes from Ford with his fashion ads. Although living in different eras, they both share many similar life experiences.

The main character of the story, George, is coping with the loss of his partner, Jim, whom he loved deeply. Jim died in a car crash on his way to visit his family, and unfortunately, George was asked by Jim’s brother to not attend the funeral because of the family’s homophobia. Since that day, George’s life had become cold and melancholy. He no longer had any enjoyment or interest since the accident. He lost his lover, with whom he had quite some years together. With the intergenerational homosexual relationship being the dynamic of the association of the two, both Ford and Isherwood could directly relate to the story. After all, Ford and his partner, Richard Buckley have a thirteen year age gap between them, just as Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy have a thirty year gap. The difference though is that Ford is the younger partner in the relationship as Isherwood was the older. Yet, the unique vibrancy of their relationships is correspondingly understood by both.

Tom Ford was able to relate very well to Isherwood’s love life and personal issues, which inspired him to transform the book into a film. A fascinating coincidence about the three most important people from the story: Isherwood (the author), Ford (the director) and Colin Firth (who plays the main character, George), is that of their personalities. In an interview, Ford distinctively points out, “Not to be too, this might sound silly to some of you – I don’t know – but Christopher Isherwood was a Virgo. Virgos are precise, almost uptight. It’s all about precision and order and I’m a Virgo. Colin Firth is a Virgo. This was the Virgo, Virgo, Virgo film” (Ford). He explains how the harmonic of the three work very well in knowing how the story should be portrayed and delivered to the audience and to satisfy themselves. Another interesting strategy Ford used in the film is, besides the main character, he had all the American actors speak in British accents and all the British actors speak in American accents: Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode, etc.

All-in-all, the direction Ford took on the film was outstanding. In both works of literature and cinema of A Single Man, the personal lives of Christopher Isherwood and Tom Ford can be individually be reflected by the same core story through their own works. One of the most amazing things that is indeed an exceptional occurrence is that even though the novel and film have many differences and personal intents, they both work out perfectly to tell the same story with the same meaning. The two versions of the story brings to the light a delicate insight of their true internal emotions. Coming from a fashion designer, the directing of the film is a work of art. The carefulness and positioning of every shot was strategically thought out to bring out the best imagery from the novel.

#LGBTQ #GayCinema #ColinFirth #TomFord